Friday, January 1, 2010

Gamba Osaka wins the Emperor's Cup

The Japanese soccer season officially ended today with the Emperor's Cup Final at National Stadium in Tokyo. The game pitted defending champs Gamba Osaka against Nagoya Grampus. The winner would make the AFC Champions League, but Osaka were already in by virtue of their 3rd place J1 finish, which gave Nagoya a bit of extra incentive as if they lost, they would not make the Champions League.

Gamba Osaka won the game 4-1 in a mildly entertaining affair which i enjoyed from the comforts of home. After Lucas gave Gamba the lead just 6 minutes in, Nagoya pressured and drew even just before the half on a header from Naoshi Nakamura. In the second stanza, the teams had few chances until the 32nd minute. Yasuhito Endo stole the ball, evaded two defenders as he moved across the box and then drove the ball to the opposite corner of the net, beating fellow Japan National Team member Seigo Narazaki. It was a great goal and demonstrated why Endo was the 2009 Asian Footballer of the Year.

With time running out, Nagoya was forced to press, and they had a chance off a corner, but when the ball fell to Osaka, Nagoya couldn't react to the counter attack. It was a 3 on 2 and Endo brought the ball deep into the box before passing back to Takahiro Futagawa who had an empty net to seal the win. Endo added a second marker in injury time to thoroughly piss off Narazaki. I'll look for highlights and try to post them here in the next day or two.

With the loss, Nagoya doesn't make the AFC Champions League. Instead, Sanfrecce Hiroshima, who finished 4th in the J League, will take the spot. It's their first appearance in the continental tournament and I'm already planning a trip to Hiroshima to see them as well as the Central League's Carp. Once the schedules are posted, I'll let you know.

Congratulations to Gamba Osaka and their fans. Now the teams get a month off before the 2010 season starts.

All the best in 2010 to everyone!

Sean

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